Driver receives 20 days in jail after pleading guilty to DUII in death of former Woodburn teacher
(Note: This story was updated on Aug. 11 with comments from the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office regarding the decision to drop the criminally negligent homicide charge against Dryden)
The driver who struck and killed a former Woodburn teacher last year has pleaded guilty to one count of driving under the influence of intoxicants and received 20 days in jail after prosecutors dropped a criminally negligent homicide charge as part of a plea deal.
In addition to jail time, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Jerry Hodson sentenced Richard Earl Dryden, 64, on Aug. 9 to three years supervised probation, a $1,000 fine, alcohol and drug treatment and ordered him to pay $10,000 in compensatory damages to the victims estate.
Dryden, a Longview, Washington resident, hit Thomas James Gazzola, 55, on June 3, 2015 as Gazzola crossed Northeast 60th Street at the intersection of Wasco Street in Portland. Gazzola was jogging at the time. He suffered a severe brain injury in the collision. His family made the decision to take him off life support eight days later and he died on June 11, 2015 at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.
Prosecutors initially charged Dryden with third-degree assault and driving under the influence. The assault charge was upgraded to negligent homicide following Gazzolas death.
According to a probable cause affidavit filed in the case by the Multnomah District Attorneys Office, Dryden originally told investigators he had consumed only one 12-ounce can of beer at a local tavern.
After failing several field sobriety tests, he allegedly admitted to having consumed three other beverages at a different establishment, the affidavit said. Dryden reportedly told the officers that he hadnt seen Gazzola until a white T-shirt hit his bumper and quickly disappeared from view.
Multnomah County prosecutor Lauren Kemp said a major accident investigation team responding to the scene was unclear as to who was at fault in the accident.
We couldnt tell because of evidence at the scene and discussions with some of the witnesses whether Mr. Gazzola may have run out into the road while he was jogging, or if the car had an opportunity to see him, she said.
Initially, the district attorneys office felt it had enough evidence to take the criminally negligent homicide charge to a grand jury, which indicted Dryden. However, as the investigation continued, prosecutors began to have doubt whether they could prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Our lead investigating officer ultimately concluded that he couldnt determine whose fault it was for the collision, and that became consistent with what the defenses (accident) reconstructionists also thought, she said.
After reviewing similar cases and two judicial settlement conferences in front a judge and with the Drydens defense team, the county felt it lacked the evidence to prove the defendants driving while under the influence caused the accident.
So we an obligation to dismiss the charge, Kemp said.
The plea deal offered on the DUII charge was consistent with first time offenders, but with a harsher jail sentence because of the circumstances, Kemp added.
Gazzola, who lived in Portland at the time of his death, began teaching at Woodburn High School in 1999. When Woodburn High integrated the small-school system in 2007, Gazzola went to work for the Woodburn Academy of Art, Science and Technology (WAAST), where he was licensed to teach advanced math, biology, social studies, language arts and psychology. He retired from the school district in 2013. He began teaching at Washington State University Vancouver in 2014 as a math professor.
Gazzola was also known as a puzzle expert and trivia enthusiast. He once appeared on the television show Jeopardy, and made headlines in January 2015 when he and 39 of his teammates won the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Mystery Hunt, a popular competition widely considered one of the most challenging and complicated puzzle hunts in the world.
He was probably one of the most brilliant minds Ive ever met, said Geri Federico, WAAST principal, last year after Gazzolas death. You just dont meet many people like that. He was so gifted and could teach so many different things.
Gazzola is survived by his wife, Kimberly Goslin, son, Clark, and daughter, Liz.